Honestly? I don’t know where to start. Rupert Kinnard makes you question your purpose and what exactly it is you’re doing with your life because he is doing so much with his.
Mr. Kinnard is a creator. What follows is a mere sampling of his resume and snippet of his life’s experiences,
- He is a former Associate Art Director for the Willamette Week
- He is a founder of Just Out, Oregon’s longest running LGBTQ Newspaper
- He launched The Diversity Alliance , Oregon’s first group committed to diversity in the LGBTQ community
- In my opinion, Brother to Brother was one of the most powerful groups in the local LGBTQ community. Comprised of gay and bisexual men, Brother to Brother was everywhere! Of course, Rupert is one of its founders.
- He worked as Art Director for The Skanner Newsgroup
- He even had the nerve to create the first Black gay superhero this country has ever seen! Brown Bomber and his sidekick Diva Touche’ Flambe’! Also known as B.B and The Diva! Okay!?
- Currently, He owns Portland-based Rupe Group, a graphic design firm.
He has taken these experiences and so many more and packaged them in his latest creation, The Life Capsule Project. When BeautifulBlackPortland.com first approached Rupert with the idea of featuring him on our blog, his response was, “it is important to tell our stories, we need to tell our stories.”
That’s exactly what Rupert does with his Life Capsule Project, he shares his many stories. Check it out here.
Ladies and gents in his words Mr. Rupert Kinnard aka Prof I.B Gittendowne, How are you? And are you still gettin’ down?
Usually when folks ask me how I am doing, I go to my default answer which is, “I’m doing great.” That reaction is so much better than “I’m OK” and I would never want to give in to my least favorite response, “I’m hanging in there.”
Then I look down and realize that I am in a wheelchair, I decide that I’m never totally “great” but usually I would say that I am doing good. I am more comfortable seeking contentment than pursuing happiness. I do continue to get down on so many levels, it boggles my mind. I attempt to “get down” to business to the point that unfortunately I am easily distracted and often it is difficult for me to stay as focused on any one thing as much as I would like. That is an issue I constantly struggle with.
Congratulations on your Lifetime Achievement Award, what does it mean to be recognized, again?
First of all…when I was made aware of the achievements of the other fellow award recipients, I felt like someone had been bamboozled into believing that I was worthy enough to be included among such accomplished individuals. But it was only when I realized the extent that cartoonists and graphic designers of color don’t seem to get much recognition for our contributions to political discourse that I was able to accept and embrace the honors. We all have our areas where we can strive to be impactful, and my chosen areas happen to be as a political cartoonist and a graphic designer specializing in working with progressive groups and organizations.
I think there has to be a great deal of work done within all marginalized groups to truly understand the total scope of “civil rights.” With the intense desire to respect the various intersections of oppression, I have to celebrate when the Black community embraces the accomplishments of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters within our varied culture. I have to encourage the LGBTQ community to acknowledge that people of color within that community has played a profound part in it’s struggle for justice.
The few times that I have been recognized for my accomplishments have prompted me to try to see myself through the eyes of others. I would never want to disrespect the experiences of those young black gay men who have shared with me how influential it was for them to come across a copy of my strip Cathartic Comics. When I accepted that I ended up creating something that would allow other young black queer folks to see themselves, in a positive light, through my characters the Brown Bomber and Diva Touché Flambé, I have allowed myself feel pride. I have also allowed myself to embrace the recognition that I have received based on the fact that I know I have been passionately committed to utilizing my artistic knowledge and expertise to help progressive groups; organizations and publications enhance their visual representation in our communities.
Walter Mosley says, and I paraphrase, the older you get the more you live in the past. Do you agree? If so, what part of your former self do you think of?
Generally I don’t think in absolutes, so I do believe that to some extent I tend to visit the past rather than live in it. So much leads me to reflection as I grow older, and I can’t help but play the “if I knew then what I know now” game.
The part of my former self that I think of has to do with my individualism as a young man. When I look back I think I took that “standing-out-from-the-crowd” for granted. It all seemed second nature to me. Now I realize how wonderful it was to not be concerned with what others thought of me. I don’t think I ever realized how well that stance would serve me in the future. I have journals that I have kept since I was in high school and it is bizarre being able to feel that I can actually visit the 16 year-old me.
When I think back at my former self as a young man, it makes me wistful because I am reminded that my “age of innocence” involved not being nearly as aware or burdened by the various forms of racism that existed at that time. It was a time before I struggled with the ideas of individual racism, institutional or systemic racism, internalized racism, colorism (lighter-skinned people discriminating against those who are darker-skinned), cultural racism and racism in the gay community. I also think of what it was like to not have my mind boggled by the intersections of various of various oppressions such as sexism, homophobia, classism, heterosexism, ableism and lookism, among others.
Long before Strange, the popular character played by Grace Jones in the hit movie Boomerang, there was Diva Touche` Flambe` and The Brown Bomber. How did you come up with those names? And who told you it was okay to create a Black gay, superhero during a time when folks were locked in the closet and weren’t thinking about coming out! Where did all this bold courage come from… and do you still have it?
Racism has reared itself in the lives of people of color in many ways throughout history. Even as a youngster, as I became enamored of comic books, I started creating my own superheroes and at a certain point I realized something was dreadfully wrong. I had created superheroes that were not reflective of my reality—I was black and my characters were all white. That fact made me angry enough that when I did create one of my first black characters, he was an ultra militant superhero who hated white people and was a champion to all black people. I named him Superbad.
A few years later, in 1976, I was ready to evolve from that Malcolm X inspired character to one who more closely embodied the philosophy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—the Brown Bomber. He was named in honor of another African American cultural hero, World Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis, who had been nicknamed “the Brown Bomber” in the 1940s. Though I was most excited about the original concept behind the creation of B.B. as the world’s first African American Gay Superhero, I was also humored at the thought of combining the attributes of two kinds of fictional characters— a fairy and a superhero.
After returning to Cornell College in the fall of 1977, B.B. ended up being featured weekly on the editorial page of my college newspaper the Cornellian and ran there for two years. He obtained status as the campus mascot during that period and though he was a gay character all along, he didn’t come out until the latter part of my senior year in 1979. So…as boldly courageous as it might have seemed in retrospect, I did wait until after 300 T-shirts, emblazoned with the Bomber’s image, sold out after they were snatched up by students, faculty and administrators (to raise money to establish a Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship fund for needy minority students), to reveal that B.B. was gay.
In 1984, looking to create a yin to the Brown Bomber’s yang, I decided that B.B. needed a soul mate. I knew that I wanted that partner to be a woman and that she would have to be a DIVA. Given that B.B. had evolved into a character that viewed the world through naïve eyes and wonderment, I felt that his buddy would have to be the opposite of that—worldly and wise. I knew I wanted her name to be Diva and I loved the combination of the words Touché and Flambé and that is how her name was created.
I know all the awesomely amazing things people say about you. But Rupert, what do you think of yourself? Do you feel greatness?
Ha! Who are those people?
What do I think of myself? I think part of how I perceive myself is reflected in the subtitle of my work-in-progress The Life Capsule Project—“The World’s Most Well-Adjusted Black Gay, “Less-abled”, Activist, Artist and Adventurer Shares Secrets of Survival and Triumph.” I love the idea of us all personally defining ourselves. I think it is the total sum of who I am and how I identify myself that helps me acknowledge my special place in the world.
My claim of being “well-adjusted” has been scoffed about many times in the past but I am clear that all things are relative. I do believe that, given all the challenges that I have faced during the last 59 years, I have flourished in ways that would have potentially crushed a lesser man. I acknowledge how I am largely perceived as a black man, a gay man and a physically challenged man in this country…but I do not embrace it. After all…I do have the clarity of thought provided to me by having the blood of Diva Touché Flambé running through my veins and a child-like sense of whimsy about this wacky world that I get from the Brown Bomber cruising through my soul.
I don’t “feel greatness” as much as I do feel significant and unique. At some point I had to realize that the voice of a fiercely gay, Black American, paraplegic activist and artist wasn’t a commonly heard voice and this one particular voice couldn’t and doesn’t represent a mainstream perspective. …And because of that, I do rock!
I so miss Brother2Brother. It truly was an amazing organization. Khalil Edwards with PFLAG replaces that void. Have you met Khalil? Do you see similarities in what he does and the work Brother2Brother did? Or, is it just a totally different time with different issues?
Don’t get me started with how I feel about Khalil. He represents the total beauty of an African American, gay young man nearing the heights of his potential as a result of the tireless efforts of those warriors in the black community and the LGBTQ community, throughout many decades. The goal had always been to create an environment that would encourage self-acceptance and a desire for young people to totally celebrate who they truly are.
There is no way I can think of Khalil without becoming emotional about the support he has received from his parents which has clearly paved the way for their son to become the community leader that we have all been fortunate to embrace.
I also miss Brother to Brother. I have very warm memories of being there at the very beginning and I remember how exciting it was for those of us, as black gay and bisexual men, to share the camaraderie that we experienced. I will never take for granted what we accomplished in the years that the group existed. I do think that what B2B tried to accomplish was different from the goals of PFLAG but ultimately it all leads to wanting to promote acceptance and respect for all people and the lives we all live. PFLAG goes beyond what B2B attempted to accomplish in that PFLAG brings together a much wider representation of the community at large. I am not sure if the need for B2B was greater back in the ‘90s than it is today but I would still love to be a part of a group that is devoted to the various issues that specifically impact gay black men today. For some of us our very lives depend on being able to share our experiences with each other to confirm that our perceptions about the way we are perceived in the world.
In other words—we need confirmation from one another that we are NOT the crazy ones. That particular need is timeless.
If you don’t mind, I want to know what you think of this. So much attention is placed on “coming out,” I read an interview where someone was asked for his or her coming out story. The person responded, they did not have a coming out story and stated they’ve always just simply been who they are. Has society evolved to this? What does it mean for the individual to come out in a society that seems to be more accepting?
Upon first consideration the idea of one person “coming out” might seem to be a small personal event. I make a direct connection from LGBTQ folks coming out over the last four decades to the recent phenomenon of same-sex-marriage. The whole concept of coming out, which I would say was popularized by the late queer rights advocate Harvey Milk back in the late ‘70s, is that the more people reveal to others a sexual preference other than straight, it is less likely that straight people might cling to any one stereotype about LGBTQ folks.
Personally I never felt a need to come out. My philosophy had always been that if anyone knew anything about my life, the truth would be right there. I simply never hid it. I wasn’t very flamboyant so I guess it did come as a surprise to some when they found out but it was never because I felt a need to voice it. I was just…it. Gay.
I would say that “coming out” was almost like a major subsection of the queer liberation struggle. When I was growing up, even coming out, seemed like this small thing to do. It was simply so you didn’t have to live a life of secrecy. You were coming out because you weren’t ashamed of who you were. So the act of coming out was just your immediate family. But the power of it I don’t think we could have anticipated, because ultimately the power was that when so many people came out, bit by bit, by bit, by bit—it got to the point where very few people, if anyone could say they didn’t know any Gay people at all. That was the power of coming out.
And that power is absolutely what has led to the struggle for marriage equality because once you’re out and you say we’re Gay and you know Gay people, you can no longer cling to the stereotypes that Gay people are these people who are slinking around in the shadows and are people who feel ashamed of who they are. So coming out to me is probably one of the greatest phenomenon that I’ve experienced in my life. And it started out so humbly. It was just a humble act and I think it has done really great things and it’s interesting to me how it has translated into other areas where you come out as a shopaholic or you come out as someone who likes reality shows. It has become such a part of society as a way of not being ashamed of something about you. You would want to come out rather proudly about something that is a core part of who you are. So coming out and Gay marriage, is just a huge part of the continuum of what the LGBT struggle has been throughout the last number of decades…I think has so much to teach society as a whole.
Now Rupert, that book of yours is something else! You know which one I’m talking about! Black Men Revealed. That book GOES THERE. Note: not for children. Please give me some context around how this book was conceptualized and realized?
Oh, my Lord. I actually can’t believe YOU went there! I would not have imagined that you would have even known enough about that book to bring it up. First of all I don’t, in any way, think of the book Vibrant Energy: Black Men Revealed as being my book. That honor belongs to the author and publisher, Larry Cross, who commissioned me to help him bring his vision to light.
I would have to say that I am proud of having designed the book because, at the time, it was the biggest project that I had ever attempted. In the end, the design was much more in keeping with Mr. Cross’ sensibility than mine. For years I knew of his desire to pull together the types of images that ended up in the book and I feel like I was compensated nicely for helping Mr. Cross achieve his dream of producing that book.
Are you single?
Far from it. I met my partner Scott Stapley in San Francisco, October of 1990. We have been together for more than 23 years and no one could be more surprised than myself. It is so clear to me that there is no one secret to a lasting relationship. I hate to admit that the main element of it seems to be luck. I feel that I was lucky to meet Scott at a certain time in my life when I could be clear with him that I am an independent man. Even within the context of a committed relationship, I would still need a great deal of independence. We both had experienced the luxury of a certain degree of therapy that enabled us to know what our behavioral patterns were and it was essential that we could share them with one another. He and I are constantly able to connect with the little boy within and we don’t take everything too seriously. We truly love making one another laugh. We don’t fall for those profoundly tired clichés like “You complete me,” or ” I was once half, now I am whole.”
What I do embrace is that we both feel that we totally support one another. In the words of the great song by the do wop group The Dells, Stay in My Corner, I am constantly aware that Scott is always there in my corner. I actively work to make sure he knows that I’ve got his back too. And though he and I are strong (or steadfastly stubborn) enough to deal with any rejection we might have received from our families, we are overjoyed and absolutely moved by the total acceptance and love that we have received from our parents.